Amid an increasingly global legal market, the latest round of partnership promotions reflects the stability and steady growth of Australian firms. Briana Everett reports
The recent appointments to partnership announced in time for the beginning of the 2011/2012 financial year contained few surprises.
While the nature of the Australian legal market is changing with the arrival of global firms, significant mergers and new alliances, Australian firms have, in the main, demonstrated their resilience and buoyancy amid a period of structural change and consolidation.
Indicative of an increasing level of optimism within the market is the latest round of partner promotions made by firms such as Allens Arthur Robinson, which made its largest round of partner appointments in four years, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, which also made an unprecedented number of partner appointments, and Henry Davis York, which grew its partnership by 10 per cent.
"A lot of people who achieve partnership this year should be very pleased with themselves. Not just for having achieved the milestone but for achieving it in an economy where we're seeing significant structural changes within law firms," says Lisa Gazis, Mahlab Recruitment managing director (NSW).
"Some of the law firms are not increasing in size and are in fact getting smaller. Where you have firms which are increasing and adding to their partnerships, it's quite a significant thing in the market because they're doing it against the backdrop of a lot of consolidation"
Lisa Gazis, managing director, Mahlab Recruitment (NSW)
"Some of the law firms are not increasing in size and are in fact getting smaller. Where you have firms which are increasing and adding to their partnerships, it's quite a significant thing in the market because they're doing it against the backdrop of a lot of consolidation."
On 3 June Allens announced the addition of 12 lawyers to its partnership across its Australian and Asian offices, half of whom began their careers with the national firm. Nicholas Adkins, Mark Malinas, Hop Dang, Jodi Reinmuth, Gavin Smith and Duncan Travis all began their careers at Allens and have now joined the firm's partnership. Philip Blaxill, Julian Donnan, Karla Fraser, Michael Graves, Penny Nikoloudis and Matthew Whittle were also appointed to partner.
The firm's latest round of partner appointments covers a range of practice areas, including resources, technology, banking and projects, and takes Allens' total partner headcount to 185, including 30 females.
Making an unprecedented number of partner promotions, Corrs increased its partnership by almost one-fifth this year, announcing the promotion of 11 lawyers to partner.
The internal promotions and the ten lateral partnership appointments the firm has made since January 2011 represent a 17.6 per cent increase in the firm's total partner headcount, in line with Corrs' strategy for 30 per cent growth by 2015.
"We embarked on a strategy in the course of the year for 2015, which is around expanding our scale in the right areas," explains Corrs managing partner John Denton. "One thing we've learned is that to ensure your position you don't take anything for granted so you look ahead and see how you have to change to give life to an improved position for the firm.
"We're taking a view which is growth, which is actually quite different to managing your way through. We're going to grow our way through rather than shrink our way through"
John Denton, managing partner, Corrs Chambers Westgarth
"We're taking a view which is growth, which is actually quite different to managing your way through. We're going to grow our way through rather than shrink our way through."
As part of its expansion strategy, Corrs appointed Sydney based Anna Ross, Paul Carrick, Sam Delaney, Shaun Bailey and Steve Johns, Melbourne-based Frances Wheelahan, Janine Young and Jennifer DeJong, Brisbane-based Frances Williams, Helen Clarke, and Perth-based Sarah Leonard to the firm's partnership.
Also on the growth path is Henry Davis York, which confirmed that managing partner Sharon Cook would remain as the firm's head until 2014, while also announcing the appointment of six new partners, providing a 10 per cent boost to its partnership and bringing the total number of partners to 58.
According to HDY chairman of partners Philip Crawford, the firm's latest partner appointments reflect its growth across a range of its practice areas, including banking, restructuring and insolvency, commercial disputes, corporate advisory, workplace relations and safety, as well as property, environment and construction.
Joining the HDY partnership are Peter Mulligan, in corporate advisory, Craig Ensor and Claudine Salameh in banking restructuring and insolvency, Tom Hollo in commercial disputes, Scarlet Reid in workplace relations and safety and Justin Madden in property environment and projects.
Upping the representation of women within its partnership this year is Minter Ellison, which added 10 new partners - six of them female - taking the proportion of female partners to 23 per cent. The majority of Minters' promotions occurred within its Melbourne practice and take the firm's total partner head count to 296, up from 289 this time last year.
Joining Minter Ellison's partnership on 1 July are Rebecca Bedford, Kylie Diwell, Joseph Pace, Joanne Dunne and Lisa Riddin Melbourne, Ricky Casali and Jakob Paartalu in Sydney, Antra Hood in Brisbane, Graeme Slattery in Perth and Kymberley Lawrence in Adelaide.
Maintaining the growth from its 11 partner promotions in 2010, Gadens Lawyers again added 11 lawyers to its partnership this year across its Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney offices.
Joining the firm's partnership in Brisbane is Andrew Young and Damian O'Connor, while Daniel Livingston, Naomi Guyett, David Passarella and Richard Partridge joined the firm's partnership in Melbourne. In Perth, Brian Smith was appointed partner, while Sydney lawyers Simon Duke, Stephanie Nicol, Helen Ord and Cordell Smith were also appointed to partner level.
Also achieving significant growth within the last 12 months is Lander & Rogers, which announced the appointment of four lawyers to its partnership. In the same period, the firm also managed to increase its number of female partners to 17, now representing 32 per cent of the firm's partnership.
"Our 2011 partnerships reflect the continued expansion of the firm across all our practice areas," says Lander & Rogers chief executive partner Andrew Willder. "Our partnership numbers have increased by around 18 per cent during the past year."
Joining Lander & Roger's partnership in 2011 are Michael Kavanagh and Radhika Mendis in the insurance law and litigation team, Daniel Proietto in the firm's workplace relations and safety team, and WorkCover lawyer Lillian Rizkalla.
In comparison to the significant expansion of some firm's partner numbers, the size of the Freehills partnership remained relatively unchanged this year. It announced the internal appointment of six new partners to keep the firm's total partner headcount stable at 197.
Joining the firm's partnership on 1 July are Patrick Gay, Joel Rennie and Adam Strauss in Sydney, David Hugo and Liz Macknay in Perth and Nicholas Ogilvie in Melbourne.
"Partner numbers fluctuate from time to time but have been broadly static at Freehills for the last few years," says Freehills chief executive officer Gavin Bell. "Freehills hires and promotes based purely on merit and a developed business case and are driven by client demand and the Freehills talent pipeline - not activity by competitors."
Also relatively quiet on the partnership front this month was Middletons, which promoted 16 to senior associate level but only one, Lisa Egan, to the partnership, compared with four during the same period last year.
The lateral pull
Given the current economic climate and the growing presence of global firms in Australia, the threat of lateral movement across the partnerships of Australian firms has never been higher.
These firms have put an even greater emphasis on attraction and retention strategies to ensure they're able to hold onto their partners and sustain and grow their firms accordingly.
"There seem to be more lateral appointments than any other time I can remember. There are more announcements of significant partners - senior partners who people would assume would never change jobs and would be with the firm they're with now until they retire - actually making moves," says Taylor Root manager Matt Harris.
"We're seeing some very surprising, significant partners from some very established firms moving and showing up at more dynamic firms - some of the international firms and some of the more entrepreneurial, smaller and profitable law firms."
In response to this lateral movement threat, a number of Australian firms are now attempting to offer greater clarity to their people regarding pathways to partnership as a way of attracting and retaining their up-and-coming lawyers.
According to Harris, rapidly growing firms such as Corrs and Gilbert + Tobin are now promising lawyers faster progression to partnership, providing case studies of existing lawyers that have made partnership in a given time frame.
"There's no guarantee, but to be frank, if you had to place your bets somewhere it's worth moving to [a different firm] ...
Corrs are able to tell a very confident story about the progression possibilities for a senior associate which, quite often, is a much more attractive story than they'll get, perhaps, from other firms in the market," he says.
Similarly, Gazis has noticed a greater mobility amongst lawyers and an increased preparedness to consider other options, given the positive sentiment within the market.
"Increasingly, people are beginning to feel a bit more confident," she says. "Firms have been very successful in picking up practice groups or a number of partners in one hit."
According to Gazis, there have been a greater number of lateral partnership appointments in the larger firms across all major cities, particularly by the larger mid-tier firms.
"Some of the top mid-tier firms are being very successful in pushing forward and appointing new partners or acquiring new practices," she says. "I think retention has always been an important issue but it's going to continue increasingly as the economy continues to improve and partners have more options."
In anticipation of the structural changes occurring within the market, according to Denton, Corrs this year began to focus heavily on the development of its partnership platform as part of its growth strategy, but also in an effort to provide more opportunities for the firm's staff.
"We told our people that we would make certain there were opportunities for growth for them," explains Denton. "We've elevated 11 [to the partnership] so we have given truth to our promises."
While Freehills' partnership size remained unchanged this year, Bell says his firm is also working on developing clarity with respect to what it takes to reach the top.
"Freehills recently completed work on building competency models that provide a compelling picture of what it takes to be successful at pivotal stages in a legal career," says Bell. "This year we piloted an 'emerging leaders program' as the primary formal development requirement for solicitors with three to five years' experience."
But while the firms try their best to keep their top talent, in the wake of July's partnership announcements there will inevitably be a level of disappointment amongst those who missed out.
However, for those who didn't make the cut, Harris claims there are plenty of options out there.
"Senior associates who haven't made partner this year should take a look at what else is out there and what other firms promise," he says. "There are definitely options out there. There are no guarantees but there are certainly some firms out there that are much more entrepreneurial than others when it comes to their progression capabilities."